Team decision-making is different from the strategies used by individuals. Teams have all the headaches of individual decision-making plus they have to coordinate the actions of the team members. On top of that, teams have new strategies to consider — strategies such as voting or building consensus — that aren’t even relevant for individuals. And team decision-making under stress is even more of a challenge. Here are some suggestions for preparing teams to make effective decisions even in the face of stress:
- Common Ground. Even before getting into a decision situation, teams can prepare themselves by building common ground about what they understand and what they want to do. Many team failures result from a common ground breakdown. Team members have different views — which is bad enough — but they delude themselves into thinking that they are on the same track. So teams need to start out fairly well calibrated. However, during an incident, common ground is going to fray, so teams have to be prepared to notice when common ground is degrading too much and take rapid steps to repair it.
- Intent. Emergency response teams generally rely on a leader and the leader describes his/her intent so that the team knows what it is trying to achieve. The Commander's Intent, or Executive Intent (for conventional teams) helps to build common ground. However, many leaders lack skills at crisply describing their intent. Even more critical is to revise the intent as the situation changes. Leaders need to practice stating their intent clearly and concisely. They need to get feedback on the kinds of confusions that can occur when they flub their intent statements.
- Predictability. Predictability is the core of coordination. One way to increase predictability is for the team to practice together using a variety of different scenarios so that the members come to appreciate their strengths and limitations, and develop workarounds for different types of events.
- Roles and functions. This seems obvious — the team members have to know what each of them is expected to achieve. But confusion over roles and functions comes up surprisingly often as a reason that team decision making falls apart.
- Anticipatory thinking. Teams cannot just assume that events are going to unfold in an orderly way, or in the way they are practiced. Stress means that teams are going to face unexpected events and contingencies. At these times, the team members have to be able to imagine how each member is going to react. The team has to sustain predictability even when improvising.
Team decision-making under stress centers on the team’s ability to adapt quickly to unexpected events, and to revise or replace decisions without fear of confusion.